Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Balkanize

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is balkanize. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Balkanize is an often-capitalized verb meaning “to break up (a region, a group, etc.) into smaller and often hostile units.” It can also mean “to divide or compartmentalize.”

// Opponents argue that the proposed legislation would only serve to Balkanize the country.

// Rock is one of many musical genres that has been balkanized into an array of subgenres.

BALKANIZE in Context

“The so-called Clean Networks Initiative used a ‘trusted-country-of-origin’ requirement to insulate the U.S. from Chinese technology, while pressing American allies to exclude Chinese equipment from their 5G telecom networks. But splitting the digital world in half would balkanize the technical standards that companies and governments use to collaborate across borders, thereby restricting their ability to innovate.” — Andy Purdy, Fortune, 9 May 2021

Did You Know?

The Balkan Peninsula of southeastern Europe is lapped by the Adriatic Sea in the west and the Black Sea in the east. It is named for the Balkan Mountains, a mountain range which extends across Bulgaria from its border with Serbia to the Black Sea. (Balkan comes from the Ottoman Turkish balḳān, meaning “wooded mountain or mountain range.”) The Balkan States are commonly characterized as comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia, with mainland portions of Greece and the European portion of Turkey often being included as well. The English word, which is often capitalized, is the lexical offspring of geography and history: the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century led to a series of revolts that accelerated the fracturing of the region into smaller states whose unstable coexistence led to violence that came to a head in World War I. Since the early 20th century, balkanize and its related noun, balkanization, have come to refer to the kind of divisive action that can weaken countries or groups, among other things.

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